Racial Happiness Gap Narrowing

David Leonhardt reports on new research from Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers (PDF) showing that while white Americans are about as happy as they were 35 years ago, blacks are much happier. This despite the fact that the racial gap in incomes remains quite high.

Why? The leading theory is—less racism, as evidenced by various poll results and also the fact that we now have black presidents, CEOs, secretaries of state, etc.

One thing I wonder, though, is if there hasn’t been more closing of the income gap in practice than is captured by statistics like this:

In 1975, per capita black income was 41 percent lower than per capita white income. Since then, the gap has shrunk only modestly, to 35 percent.

As we know, however, a very large share of the income gains during this time period have accrued to a very small number of people. In particular, the top one percent of earners has gotten a ton and the bottom ninety percent have gotten basically nothing. Insofar as the super-elite is a disproportionately white group of people, this is going to drag the per capita white income upwards without doing much of anything for the typical white household. Consequently, you can easily imagine that there’s been a trend toward greater racial equality among the vast majority of the population even while a tiny group of white people has pulled away from the pack.


Kevin Drum does some research googling and shows I’m right that the median gap is closing faster than the mean.

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